Efforts by German authorities to clamp down on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign took a sinister turn recently after a Jewish-German singer and daughter of a Holocaust survivor was warned that a concert in which she is scheduled to perform would be cancelled if she made any remarks in support of BDS.
The threat, which suggests that German officials are policing how Israel is discussed in arts and cultural events, shows Nirit Sommerfeld receiving a letter in which the singer is warned that if she used the word BDS or anything they deem to be “anti-Semitic” German authorities would cancel the concert in Munich on Saturday. Sommerfeld and her orchestra Shlomo Geistreich are scheduled to hold a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the band.
Details of the letter, written in German and sent to Sommerfeld last week, were shared on social media. A German language blog published Sommerfeld’s response. In her reply the Jewish artist expressed outrage over the fact that she has been asked to give a written confirmation that she will not include any “anti-Semitic” content in her performance.
Sommerfeld mentioned that she did not perform a single concert in which she did not sing at least one song about the Holocaust and the love of her “homeland Israel”. Triggered by the claim that she is anti-Semitic or her support for Palestinian rights could be deemed anti-Semitic, Sommerfeld said that “for years I have been using artistic means to promote just Israel and human rights for Palestinians. Is that enough? to be suspected of anti-Semitism??”
Sommerfeld admits that “BDS is not my topic in public” and offered her personal views on the subject by sharing a link to a letter drafted by 240 Jewish and Israeli scientists calling on German parties not to equate BDS with anti-Semitism. The letter, which has been published in both English and German on BDS Germany’s website, stated that “we all reject the deceitful allegation that BDS as such is anti-Semitic and maintain that boycotts are a legitimate and non-violent tool of resistance.”
After dismissing the claim that her support for BDS could in any way constitute anti-Semitism, Sommerfeld reminded German authorities of her own heritage. “May I remind you that I am a Jewish woman born in Israel, daughter of a Holocaust survivor, granddaughter of a grandfather murdered by ANTISEMITEN [anti-Semitism] in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp”? she said.
Sommerfeld was particularly triggered by the fact that she needed to make a pledge that she would not be anti-Semitic. She raged that as a Jew, as a German-Israeli democrat who is committed to the Basic Law and also critical of Israeli politics, forced into a position where she had to give assurances that she would not be anti-Semitic, was “scandalous”.
A number of high profile Jewish figures have been targeted by pro-Israeli groups since Germany voted in May to define BDS as anti-Semitic. Peter Schafer, the former director of Berlin’s Jewish Museum, was forced out from his job after he shared the letter drafted by 240 Jewish and Israeli scientists calling on German parties not to equate BDS with anti-Semitism.
Schafer’s ejection from his post prompted outrage. Dozens of Jewish scholars protested by drafting a letter in support of the Berlin Museum director. “We are deeply concerned about the growing censorship of free speech and the shrinking possibility of criticizing or even questioning government policies which are manifested in these recent developments”, they said in the letter.
Another high-profile case in June, saw the guide of the Jewish Museum of Berlin resigning in protest against what he called “the crass political intervention by the German government and the State of Israel in the work of the museum”.